Nuala McCann: English literature talks about history, psychology, philosophy, languages, sociology, theology … that’s what makes us humans

THEY say the future is STEM – science, technology, and math are where they are.

English Literature degrees are where they aren’t if you read newspaper articles about the decline and fall of the English degree.

Students no longer want to read Eng Lit in college.

There has been a decline in applications.

As of the application deadline in January this year, 7,045 18-year-olds had applied to study English at university, down more than a third from 10,740 in 2012, data shows. of Ucas.

Experts say fewer students are taking English to A level. It’s computer science, psychology, and math.

We are two arts students who trained as a software engineer. We still scratch our heads and wonder where he came from.

When he started his first job – working from home – there was a call at his boss’s door, welcoming him to the company with a new backpack, beanie, mug and box of cupcakes. fresh.

He got a brand new Mac from the company – not a small Amstrad PCW 9512; how far has the world evolved?

Honestly, is there a cocktail called Silicon Valley? Because there should be.

But I wouldn’t trade my college days and my English literature degree for a seat at the table with Bill Gates or a ride in a rocket with a billionaire.

Yes, for jobs and opportunities then STEM is really where it is.

But the humanities are what make us humans.

It’s not an easy race.

Think about all those budding journalists and magazine editors with my kind of degree, offering their talents for free just to get their foot in the door and resigning themselves to living in the attic or trotting with the skinny latte and double shot Americano to keep the boss happy.

But someone has to stand up for literature as the beating heart of what makes us who we are.

My mother tried to persuade me that the offer of the law might have been a better option … there was a lot of crime in Belfast in the late 1970s.

But I spent an afternoon with a lawyer and needed two matches to keep my eyelids open.

And what joy in four whole years of Pip and the gentle convict Magwitch, Macbeth and Patrick Kavanagh.

In hindsight, that was wasted for most of us 19-year-olds.

We read a novel, a play and a poet every week.

We read Paradise Lost with a rather eccentric old teacher who wore tweed suits and called it “Paradise Lawst”, but it was an easy marker – grandiose then.

And we read and debated and argued and read more. We drank wine during our tutorials and learned to defend our points of view. It was education in the truest sense of the word.

Looking back, I wish I had been old enough to appreciate what we had.

I now know that poetry is food for the soul, for those who have lived, loved, lost.

Shakespeare’s tragedies with all that jealousy, overreacting ambition or pride were lost on my teenager.

Now, I support novelists like Mark Haddon – author of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time – who have made a passionate appeal to universities not to give up their English degrees.

Haddon says English is about history, psychology, philosophy, languages, sociology, theology … that’s what makes us human.

Writer Patrick Gale says that English promotes our mutual understanding.

If more cabinet members had degrees in English literature, he says, they wouldn’t cut our overseas aid budget or drastically underestimate the importance of investing in children.

To quote Bill Shankly incorrectly, the literature is not about life or death – it’s much more important than that

One of my favorite movies is The Curious Benjamin Button Story about a man whose life is lived inside out.

He is born old and rejuvenated. He has a perfect time with the woman he loves, and then she ages as he becomes a rebellious teenager.

So maybe college and the study of literature are wasted on young people.

Like Benjamin Button, maybe we should all live our lives upside down – born old, retire, work and go read English and revel in the stories of Pip and Miss Havisham, Jane Eyre, Orlando.

Then regress to childhood and end your life with an orgasmic bang. It would be poetry.

About Leslie Schwartz

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